BBC Radio 4. 14th February 2016. ''Sunday'' program with article on Witnesses and child abuse.

by ThomasCovenant 76 Replies latest watchtower child-abuse

  • Joe Grundy
    Joe Grundy

    Thanks, Mephis.

    I think that this is going to be a can of worms, but I'm retired, most days its raining so it could be a useful pursuit.

    (I find it noteworthy that the Bible Students broke away from JWs, or vice versa, and yet WT UK still uses IBSA as its legal entity - but that's another discussion).

    I never was a JW but as far as I understand it, every KH holds personal data (whether on paper or digital doesn't matter if it's searchable) about its members. Includes names, addresses, phone numbers, time records, JC results, TMS markings, and so on. As far as I can see, they should be registered under DPA.

    I need to check this out.

  • Joe Grundy
    Joe Grundy

    I've sent the following e-mail to the office of the Information Commissioner:

    I would be grateful for your advice.

    I understand that congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses maintain considerable amounts of personal data about congregants, including name/address/phone number etc. but also notes as to attendance at congregational meetings, hours spent in 'missionary activity', suitability for advancement, and so on. This data is, I believe, shared with other entities within the overall organisation (WTBTS NY USA).

    In particular, I understand that records are kept of congregational enquiries ('judicial committees') into alleged wrongdoings which may include matters as serious as child abuse.

    My understanding is that the keeping of such records is subject to the Data Protection Act, and that the Data Controllers should register with ICO and comply with the relevant legislation.

    I note that the Jehovah's Witnesses UK HQ is registered (under International Bible Students Association) as are a few local congregations (under CCTV provisions) but it seems to me that local congregations, which hold searchable (and sometimes sensitive) personal data should also be registered. Am I correct in this view?

    Thank you for your attention

    I'll post any reply.

  • Mephis
    I think that this is going to be a can of worms, but I'm retired, most days its raining so it could be a useful pursuit.
    I was looking at seeing how far I could push it a year or so ago, but my discussions with ICO seemed to highlight a limit in what I personally could do. A subject access request for myself would return little of use, nor anything to trigger further investigation once WBTS had returned the very little they hold on me (personally). Be interesting to see how ICO respond to a more general concern.
  • Joe Grundy
    Joe Grundy
    We'll see how far this can go. Unfortunately I've lost my contacts who I could have used to progress this so must do it through public access channels.
  • Ruby456


    It sounded as if JWs were included in the 18 religious organisations notified. If they weren't then the BBC coverage is pretty misleading imo.

    the way I see it the BBC are commenting on what victims, their solicitors and representatives have told them and the inquiry says that it will take all allegations from victims seriously.

    the problem is that JWs can argue they do not have a duty of care towards children and so they have the wiggle room if they do destroy files relating to data protection act. the inquiry is very clear about duty of care

    Yesterday, as Justice Goddard concluded, she lay down a challenge to institutions that have, or have had, a duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse: "I urge you to take a proactive stance towards the Inquiry – to review your files, records and procedures voluntarily and to take the initiative to self-report instances of institutional failure – rather than waiting for us to come and see you. Above all, review your current safeguarding policies to make sure that they are consistent with best practice, and take whatever steps you can to provide a safer environment for children now."

    and then this

    What documents are to be preserved? A copy of Justice Goddard's letter to organisations on document preservation can be found here. Justice Goddard said that any institution with responsibility for children should regard itself as obliged to comply with its instructions.

    I'm only commenting on the destruction of documents part. the BBC are not required to get everything right - and they often have to put two opposing views side by side.

    edit: unless of course there is a precedent setting case like that of Candace Conti - wherein, for example, a brother was assigned to help a family, groomed one of the children and then abused him/her - something to do with the ministry - a grey area anywhere in the world regarding opportunity to groom

  • konceptual99
    The British specific policy information is contained in letters from 1999/2000. I know I posted a few, and I'm sure konceptual99 (?) posted more too. It gives what the elders actually do retain after notes have been destroyed. It's not a lot. Sure someone can link. My internet keeps dying (BT sucks) or I would repost.

    I've not posted any letters as I've not been an elder or had access to the file. I was almost certain each congregation had to register but I can't find anything to confirm this as this was 15 plus years ago. There have definitely been letters and instructions sent regarding the DPA and the general storage of records. There are also differences between what is kept about general judicial matters and those specifically about child abuse.

    There is a yearly "audit" of notes and records to purge anything which is not on the list of acceptable records. I've known about this for years and discussed it several times with friends and family who are elders and served as the congregation secretary.

    The fundamental reason was the DPA, especially the fact that elders could not be trusted to take impartial notes about a judicial matter and would put stupid things into writing. I would not be surprised if there were wider reasons such as plausible deniability should documents be requested by authorities.

    Of course there is the implication that this approach is a systematic plan by the WTS in Britain to remove information on child abuse cases but the letter makes it clear that the audit does not apply child abuse information.

    Having said that. I think the BBC report touches on a number of concerns. For example:

    - what happens if a matter never actually gets categorised as child abuse?

    - is the information held about child abuse cases and abusers sufficient?

    - what prevents an incorrect interpretation of the instructions from allowing required data to be destroyed?

    - why has there been no communication to the elders about the letter from the ICO?

    - why is there a culture of poor cooperation with the authorities when they do investigate?

    - why are judicial processes not suspended until the authorities are allowed to investigate potentially criminal matters?

    - why does every process reflect a distrust of authorities, fear of litigation, lack of transparency and general impression the organisation has to be dragged kicking and screaming towards any kind of best practice regarding dealings with it's members and the wider community?

  • slimboyfat

    When the presenter said that 18 (or however many) religious institutions had been contacted by the enquiry I think the listener made a reasonable inference in the context that JWs were one of those institutions. (Or else what was the point?) If that is not the case then I think the BBC has seriously misled the listener. I don't think this is a trivial detail. It should be clarified one way or another.

    The BBC is very frustrating. It produces well presented and easy to consume content. But whenever they touch on a subject you actually know something about it becomes glaringly obvious there are extremely incompetent when it comes to basic facts. That's before you even get in to the contentious issue of bias. The people of Scotland for example were collectively water boarded by the London BBC during the referendum. (Not the Scottish BBC which was markedly better) And the whole of the UK in the run up to the Iraq war.

  • Ruby456


    When the presenter said that 18 (or however many) religious institutions had been contacted by the enquiry I think the listener made a reasonable inference in the context that JWs were one of those institutions.

    I agree but I doubt that the BBC or victims of sexual abuse know which religions have been contacted. There are over 100 religious institutions in England and the area covered by the inquiry and only 18 have been contacted.

    the BBC will probably also have to render an account of themselves to this inquiry somewhere along the line.

  • Mephis

    I know that evidence about WBTS is being heard.

    It's immaterial whether they were directly notified or not, as Godard said in her opening statement, but I doubt there would have been much of relevance destroyed between June and December in any case. Who knows though? Have they ever produced notes as evidence for a criminal or civil trial about child safeguarding in Britain? I was amazed that notes were found for ARC, as I know full well that in Britain such notes would long since have been destroyed. As one of the elders at ARC also confirmed happened to his notes.


    @konceptual - ah thank you, thought you'd posted some. Apologies if not :)

  • slimboyfat

    Ruby I wonder how it could happen that the BBC know how many religious institutions have been contacted but not which ones. You would think that wherever you can find out how many you could also find out which ones. If JWs were not one of be institutions contacted it makes a difference to the story. The BBC should have established this fact one way or another. If they can't even do that then what are they good for?

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